Ann Taylor Loft recently issued an invitation to bloggers to preview the retailer’s summer collection, rewarding bloggers who posted about the new line by including them in a gift card drawing. Was Ann Taylor Loft in compliance with the new FTC blogger regulations?
The short answer is “no”, and there are several reasons why.
First, according to Jezebel, a blog that was invited to participate in the campaign but declined, almost none of the bloggers participating in the campaign disclosed to readers that they would receive the chance to win a high value gift card after submitting their review to Ann Taylor’s publicist.
Whether or not a blogger discloses a material relationship with a company when posting a review, it is ultimately the company’s responsibility to ensure that proper disclosure takes place under new FTC regulations. Ann Taylor should have included a reminder in their invitation to disclose to readers they had received a gift card after submitting their review. Furthermore, it was Ann Taylor’s responsibility to continue to follow up with bloggers until all disclosures had been made.
Additionally, the fact that blogger reviews were submitted to a publicist before gift card values were revealed to participating bloggers could indicate that Ann Taylor rewarded bloggers according to how positive individual reviews were.
When a company commits to a campaign that invites bloggers to review its products, it automatically surrenders any right to control messaging about its product. Marketers should not attempt to stifle or hide negative blogger feedback. Instead, they should welcome such feedback as an opportunity to make product improvements. If a blogger points out an issue with a product, it is likely other consumers will face the same issue. If handled properly, a negative review can become an opportunity for a marketer to continue a public conversation with consumers, showcasing a commitment to customer satisfaction.
Ultimately, it is not illegal to provide payment or some other form of compensation to bloggers who review your products. However, the new FTC guidelines emphasize the importance of transparency in blogger relations and particularly during product review campaigns. And while the responsibility to disclose rests on the blogger, it is the marketer’s responsibility to ensure bloggers are doing so, regardless of how much nudging that takes.
To ensure your blogger relations efforts are in compliance with he new FTC guidelines, check out our recent post, The Impact FTC Guidelines Have on Blogger Relations, to get caught up on the changes.
Want to implement a blogger relations campaign or have questions about the FTC guidelines as they relate to social media marketing, contact me at email@example.com or 440.333.0001 ext. 105.
How can I ensure that my blogger relations efforts are in compliance with the new FTC guidelines? _______________________________________________________________ Kayleigh Fitch, blogger relations expert
While the FTC’s updated Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising can be complex and difficult to understand in entirety, there are specific and clear guidelines a marketer should be aware of when promoting products and services through blogger relations.
The complete text of the Revised Endorsement and Testimonials Guides can be found at http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2009/10/endortest.shtm. In the meantime, below is a list of the basic guidelines to help ensure you are in compliance with the new regulations when it comes to blogger relations.
1. Understand that not all blogger reviews are considered endorsements. A blog review written by a consumer who regularly uses your product or brand, who decides to purchase the product of their own accord, or purchases the product through a special promotion or discount available to most consumers or received through a rewards program is not considered an endorsement under the FTC’s new guidelines.
2. If a blogger reviews your company’s product or service and writes about the experience in a blog post as if he or she has in fact used the product personally, ensure that the blogger has actually tested your product before writing about it or clearly discloses that is not the case. It is not acceptable for a blogger to portray that he or she has used a product personally when that is not the case. “When the advertisement represents that the endorser uses the endorsed product, the endorser must have been a bona fide user of it at the time the endorsement was given.” (Section 255.1)
3. Monitor blog reviews for unsubstantiated claims. For example, if a blogger claims in a post that the skin lotion you asked the blogger to review has the ability to cure eczema and there is no substantiated evidence of this claim, then both you and the blogger are liable under the new guidelines.
“The advertiser is subject to liability for misleading or unsubstantiated representations made through the blogger’s endorsement. The blogger also is subject to liability for misleading or unsubstantiated representations made in the course of her endorsement.” (Section 255.1)
4. It is not illegal to pay a blogger to write a positive review of your products, although Sweeney strongly discourages against pay-for-placement blogger relations. However, if you decide to go that route, you are responsible for ensuring that the blogger clearly discloses that he or she has been paid for their review.
“The blogger [and the marketer] is also liable if she fails to disclose clearly and conspicuously that she is being paid for her services.” (Section 255.1)
5. Ensure that the blogger fully discloses any and all material connections to you, your company, product or service “that might materially affect the weight or credibility of the endorsement.” (Section 255.4) The FTC does acknowledge that connections that are reasonably expected by the audience need not be disclosed. But if you are unsure what is considered “reasonably expected”, err on the side of caution and disclose the connection.
6. Specifically, you should ensure that a blogger clearly discloses when a product or service being reviewed has been provided for free, regardless of the value of the product. The FTC considers both bloggers and marketers responsible for ensuring this guideline is met and specifically states, “The manufacturer should advise him [the blogger] at the time it provides the gaming system [product for review] that this connection should be disclosed, and it should have procedures in place to try to monitor his postings for compliance.”
7. When communicating an endorsement message obtained through blogger relations (e.g. on sales literature or on a company web site) it is not necessary to use the exact words of the endorser. But, endorsements reworded or supplied out of context can come under scrutiny if they falsely represent an opinion or experience.
“The endorsement message need not be phrased in the exact words of the endorser, unless the advertisement affirmatively so represents. However, the endorsement may not be presented out of context or reworded so as to distort in any way the endorser’s opinion or experience with the product.” (Section 255.1 of Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising)
Want to implement a blogger relations campaign or have questions about the FTC guidelines as they relate to social media marketing, contact me at kalyeigh at sweeneypr.com or 440.333.0001 ext. 105.
Just this week we received the following email from a blogger requesting free product to conduct a product review for a client. I removed the name of the blogger as my intentions are not to call out this blogger specifically, but to show why the FTC’s new blogging regulations are a move in the right direction.
Without regulations or guidelines, the blogging community is simply a free for all or as some might call it “the wild wild west”. While I agree it would be better if the industry self regulated, that hasn’t happened and the government needed to step in to protect consumers and remove the curtain from corporations paying for blogger reviews
In the case of this blogger’s request, we declined because the blogger had very little credibility online and little traffic from what we could tell. It was apparent the blogger was simply looking for free product, but had nothing to give in return.
I’d like to introduce myself, my name is _________! The reason I’m writing is because we’d like to invite you to allow us to do a review for you on our site. There are some sites/blogs that do this, and a small percentage of those charge a fee, plus test product, plus a giveaway product. We do not charge a fee. It’s wonderful advertisement for you! We only ask that you send a test (review) product(s) and offer an item(s) (and/or an assortment) for giveaway that you will mail when the drawing has been concluded. Unless we discuss my shipping the item. The giveaway is not required, but usually is a great event. We’ll happily post pictures of your product provided by you, and link to your site, as well as carry your logo of choice, and size, reasonably sized please. If you don’t have a “button” we’d be happy to make one for you for an additional minimal charge, depending on what you would like. We will do our best to make sure you are pleased! We currently have giveaways on our site right now. Reviewed products, under the same circumstances of your own. No payment, only product. Which I might add I think is tax deductible under research purposes. Possibly even under other deductions. I’m not a tax whiz! Word of mouth advertisement is excellent, and honestly that’s how I make many of my purchases, is looking around to see who thinks what of said product. I would greatly enjoy welcoming you to our site for a review. We have had more than 2 of our articles featured on large blog networks. I’ll include a couple of links at the bottom of this email. We do work together, and we proof read for one another. We make a great team, and would like to welcome you to our sites if you’d like to be featured. Thanks for taking the time to read this, if you would please let me know a positive answer, I’d be very appreciative. Thank you
Not surprisingly, the Federal Trade Commission is currently working on a blogger review and endorsement policy focused on false advertising. Basically if a blogger is paid to write a review on his or her blog, the FTC will require the blogger to disclose this information. Where there is currently some gray area is when bloggers are provided free product to conduct a review. You can read the full story here: http://is.gd/sAAQ
This is nothing new when it comes to magazines and newspapers. You see this all the time in what we call in the marketing, public relations and advertising business “advertorials”. It is actually an ad that is made to look like an article. However, you will find at the top of the ad “Paid Advertisement”. At the end of the day, consumers are still misled.
When it comes to blogger relations campaigns, the agency has conducted numerous blogger campaigns that have proved to be very successful from mommy bloggers testing cleaning products to diabetic bloggers testing blood glucose meters. One hundred percent of the time the products have achieved rave reviews and drove significant traffic to the clients’ web sites. Here are just a few examples:
I have diabetes, and am always looking for a glucometer that is more accurate, less painful and more informative. I got that with the WaveSense Jazz™, a great blood glucose monitoring system. I am especially pleased because it provides mealtime averages, which helps me track my readings throughout the day and provides averages and graphs that help me track my numbers. – Redsoxmommy.blogspot.com
I recently came across a ton of items that I can definitely use in my kitchen, and I know you can too! These are all made my Weiman Products and should be every kitchen! – Lisareviews.com
From a public relations and marketing perspective, regulating blogs will likely change the way we work with bloggers and cut down substantially on the number of review opportunities for manufacturers and service based companies. To that end, it will actually make our job harder.
However, since it is likely that the average Joe doesn’t realize the difference between a blog and a traditional media review (objective reporting), regulating blogs is the best approach to protecting the consumer. You cannot pay media to write a review; therefore, you shouldn’t be able to pay bloggers either, send them on lavish trips or entice them with loads of free product. Where the gray line is for me is that we send media free product to test all the time. In very rare cases, we will get media who cannot accept the free sample product and have to run to a store to purchase it (Consumer Reports, etc.).
Certainly if this policy passes, it will change blog product reviews. However, it is beyond me how the FTC will actually regulate this. There are millions of blogs and everyday more and more blogs are added to the mix. I assume it will be something like online music sharing sites. A few people are caught, fined and made an example for others. But that hasn’t stopped music sharing sites from operating or others from downloading illegal music.